The Cleveland Community Police Commission is wrapping up its conversation series on the effects of police violence by shedding light this month on the experiences of Black transgender, queer and non-binary folks. In July, it plans to hold a larger symposium on policing open to everyone. 

Series participants discuss what happens to a person’s physical and mental health when they experience trauma at the hands of police. 

The Community Police Commission will take what it learns and create recommendations for police policies and training. 

After the first talk, titled “The Impact of Police Violence on Black Women” in March, two people who identify as non-binary approached the organizer, Shalenah Williams, the assistant director of the Community Police Commission. They suggested she hold a talk for the transgender, queer and non-binary community. 

A group of women sit in a row of chairs against the walls, listening and smiling during a conversation on the impact of police violence on Black women, at Towards Employment, on March 23.
A group of women listen and smile during a conversation on the impact of police violence on Black women, at Towards Employment on March 23. The conversation was the first in a series organized by the Community Police Commission. Credit: Loh

Williams recognized the request as an example of yet another marginalized group that had been left out, she said. 

Focusing on LGBTQ+ experiences

So she connected with JD Harrison, who works at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. She added, “The Impact of Police Violence on the Trans and Queer Community” to the discussion series at the end of June. 

As Williams organized the event and talked with panelists, they told her they are often misgendered, especially when interacting with police. 

Cleveland police have been criticized in the past for how they handled cases involving trans victims. Activists and LGBTQ+ allies say misgendering in police reports and medical examiner’s documents makes it difficult to address the crisis of murdered trans people. 

In 2021, Tierramarie Lewis, a trans woman, was fatally shot. Police misgendered her, making it difficult for her friends at a trans wellness group to get information about her case, The Buckeye Flame reported. 

If Lewis hadn’t been connected with the center, she might not have been counted as a murdered trans woman, Eliana Turan, with the LGBT Center, told the Buckeye Flame. 

Williams said highlighting the experience of LGBTQ+ people with police will also help allies better understand and stand alongside them. 

“It’s important to bring that kind of awareness to the community to know that there are allies,” Williams said. “But people have to know what the struggle is.”

Men relate on reaction to police

Since the Black Women’s conversation in March, Black youth ages 14 to 18 and Black men have met in separate sessions. They talked about the impact of police violence on their bodies and minds. 

The youth event included spoken word poetry along with a 14-year-old DJ. A young artist painted on canvas inspired by the topics being discussed.

The men’s talk had the largest attendance, Williams said. She wasn’t there, but she looked at notes from people who were. She said something that came up often was Black men saying their response to interacting with police included sweating, shaking and stammering. 

A group of men sit at a round table talking about their experiences and interactions with police at The Alpha Education and Leadership Development Center, on April 29.
A group of men talk about their experiences and interactions with police at The Alpha Education and Leadership Development Center, on April 29. The talk was part of a larger series of conversations organized by the Community Police Commission to shed light on the impact of police violence on the Black community. Credit: Glenn E. Thornton

“Perception for law enforcement may not be that this person is nervous because, you know, ‘I’m a police officer,’” Williams said.

An officer might think this person committed a crime or is acting suspicious, she said. These examples will help the commission create police training that leads to a better understanding of why people react to officers the way they do.

What’s next

The final meeting will be a symposium in July with a panel of speakers and breakout sessions. That event will bring together all four groups — Black women and men, youth and the LGBTQ+ community. 

As part of the series, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board agreed to pay for monthly therapy sessions of 75 attendees for a year. So far, seven people have reached out to get free therapy.

Want to attend one of the final sessions?

Identity & Community: LGBTQIA+Trans Conversation about Police Violence

Thursday, June 22 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The LGBT Community Center, 6705 Detroit Ave.

Register for the event here.

The Conversation: The Impact of Police Violence on the Black Community

Friday, July 28 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Case Western Reserve University: Tinkham Veale Center, 11038 Bellflower Rd.

Register for the event here.

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Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.